General Motors Co. installs engineer and current human-resources chief Mary Barra to head the auto maker’s global product-development operations, a position vacated with Tom Stephens’ appointment this week as global chief technology officer.

As senior vice president, global product development, she also will lead global strategic product alliances.

Barra becomes GM’s newest car czar, a position industry-maverick Bob Lutz created and filled during most of his tenure before retiring last year. She will lead design, engineering and quality for the auto maker’s 11 brands around the world. She will manage some 36,000 employees.

GM Chairman and CEO Dan Akerson, who earlier this week made Stephen’s appointment, shuffled marketing executives and named a new president for the auto maker’s OnStar telematics unit, says Barra will bring a “fresh perspective” to a “critically important job.”

Lutz originally created the position because he thought GM relied too much on focus groups and made product development decision by committee, leading to watered-down vehicles that failed to excite customers.

A number of today’s products from GM, such as the Chevrolet Equinox cross/utility vehicle and Buick LaCrosse sedan, are so popular the auto maker has struggled to meet demand.

“(Barra’s) broad experience in engineering, manufacturing and staff functions, combined with the ability to collaborate and build strong relationships will enhance the company’s ability to deliver the products today’s consumers demand,” Akerson says in a statement.

Barra, 49, was appointed to lead human resources during a broad management shakeup after GM exited bankruptcy in 2009. Prior to that, she led the auto maker’s manufacturing engineering operations. She also has held positions ranging from plant manager of GM’s Detroit-Hamtramck, MI, assembly plant to director of internal communications.

An electrical engineering graduate of Kettering University, formerly the General Motors Institute, Barra started her career at GM in 1980 as a co-op student from the school. She also holds a master’s degree in business administration from Stanford University.

Barra’s appointment is effective Feb. 1. She will report to Akerson and becomes the first woman to hold the car czar spot. Barra also will sit on the auto maker’s executive committee. Her successor at human resources will be named at a later date.